Less than a month away from her octagon date with Felice “Lil Bulldog” Herrig, Paige “12 Gauge” VanZant is in a good place in her career and mind, despite the criticism she’s received in the last several weeks.
VanZant has been on the fast track to stardom. Too fast in the minds of some fans, critics and fighters. She’s 4-1 in her career with wins over Jordan Nicole Gaza, Amber Stautzenberger, and Kailin Curran in a bout that’s a clear “Fight of the Year” candidate.
Even before she stepped into the octagon, VanZant had a buzz about her and a fan following like any other pro fighter. She didn’t make it into “The Ultimate Fighter 20″ house because of her age. Yet I can’t think of many 20-year-olds in MMA who burst on the scene like she did. Heck, I can’t think of many kids in their 20’s who have started their career path.
In an interview with MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani, VanZant agreed that her career is in a good place.
“No it’s not happening too fast at all. I’m very fortunate,” VanZant said in the interview. “I have to keep busy, otherwise I kind of get bored. If I wasn’t dong this, I’d be doing something else. I have to stay busy. I’m young, I guess, so I have a lot of energy.”
The criticism didn’t really start until VanZant’s fight with Herrig was announced and she signed a separate endorsement deal with Reebok. She’s one of a handful of MMA fighters to have a sponsorship with the apparel company that will make the UFC’s fight uniforms.
Some fans took umbrage of VanZant’s success because their favorite 115-pound fighters, like Joanne Calderwood, Bec Rawlings and titleholder Carla “Cookie Monster” Esparza weren’t booked in bouts nor did they have a Reebok deal. Esparza and her fans were especially vocal about being overlooked by the promotion. Since then the UFC has booked more strawweight bouts and it will put more focus Esparza.
But should we put the blame on VanZant and her management for signing with Reebok? It’s not like the UFC could put their foot down and say, “No, you cannot sign her.” I say props to her and her management for orchestrating the deal.
It goes back to fighters expecting to be handed things. If you’re a promotion’s champion or its rising star, sure it should go out of its way to put a lot of focus on you. But if all you do is sit there, wait for a fight and collect a paycheck and your opponent is going out of their way to get the endorsement deal, you have no room to cry about it.
If fans have a problem because their favorite fighters aren’t getting special treatment, they should take that up with the promotion, not blast VanZant because of the success she’s worked for. It’s like UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey being upset that some of the ring girls make more money than some of the fighters. Rather than take it up with the front office and the ones who make the payroll, she attacks Arianny Celeste.
It’s good that VanZant is in the right place because her fight with Esparza will not be easy. Herrig is a good striker and likes to scrap. If VanZant performs as well as she did in her last fight, she could pull off the victory. And as the last two opponents who beat Herrig know, her best friend Esparza will be there to stare you down.
If VanZant defeats Herrig and catches the eye of Esparza, who will defend her title against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, she might earn a title shot whether the UFC feels she’s earned it or the Cookie Monster wants revenge.